The New Northern Kentucky Islamic Center

As recently reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Northern Kentucky will soon be home to its first mosque. Here are some brief thoughts:

Freedom of religion applies to all Americans of all religions. I have often heard Christians thank God for the freedom to worship in the United States. Like freedom of speech, freedom of religion doesn’t apply only to popular, inoffensive ideas. In parts of the US, evangelical Christianity is viewed as offensive and dangerous. Should those regions be allowed to ban new church buildings?

Few Muslim countries allow freedom of religion. We should shame them by our example. Yes, it is indeed unfair that Muslims are allowed to build mosques in the US, while Christians are not allowed to build churches in Saudi Arabia, even though more than one million Catholic Filipinos live and work in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the laws of Saudi Arabia (and many other Muslim nations) directly contradict the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which is binding on Saudi Arabia as a UN member[*]. What would we gain by lowering ourselves to the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia?

The Gospel spreads through relationships and truth, not government enforcement. In Rodney Stark’s book Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome, the Baylor historian and sociologist demonstrates that the early church grew from 150 Jesus followers to more than 30 million through ordinary relationships: family members, coworkers, neighbors. Elsewhere, Stark has suggested that gaining its status as the state religion of the Roman Empire actually slowed the growth of Christianity. If we want to share the love of Christ with Muslims, we can do so only by building relationships with them, not by isolating them from our community.

Muslims already live in Northern Kentucky. This mosque would not be built if there were not already a community of Muslims in Northern Kentucky. By opposing the mosque, I’m not sure what we gain other than antagonizing our neighbors. Opponents of the mosque cite fears of terrorism. But is there a faster way to turn a Muslim youth against the US than by making him feel hated and unwanted?

What should we do then?

  • Welcome our Muslim neighbors as fellow Americans and support their freedoms under the US Constitution.
  • Build friendships with our Muslim neighbors so that they can witness Christian love and hospitality firsthand.
  • Share the gospel with them in word and deed, in the hope that they will accept the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today, a major problem in Muslim countries is the perception that Christians are uncaring, immoral, and hypocritical. We may not be able to do much to shape the views of Muslims overseas, but shouldn’t we ensure that American Muslims see a better side of Christianity?

[*]Tellingly, the Saudis abstained from the original adoption.

World Religions: Islam

The flag of Pakistan, showing the Muslim star and crescent, as well as the color green (which has special significance in Islam)

Below are my presentation and handout from the Islam sections of my World Religions class.  Last night, we finished our coverage of Islam and began looking at Judaism.

Reminder: there will be no class next week (March 24) because I’ll be out of town.  We’ll resume class on March 31 by looking at contemporary issues in Judaism and beginning our look at Hinduism.

Helpful Links

Handbook on Islam: Don Tingle, who many at Lakeside know, has written a handbook on Islam for US military personnel. You can download the entire handbook from his website. You can also read an article about Don’s work from the Christian Standard.

Muslim Followers of Jesus? Although their presence isn’t widely acknowledged in the mainstream press, there are millions of people worldwide who claim to be Muslim followers of Jesus (who is called Isa in Arabic).  Christianity Today recently looked at this phenomenon, and also devoted an article to it in 2007.

Using the Koran to Preach the Gospel? The CAMEL Method uses the Koran to introduce Muslims to Jesus.  Last week, the New York Times examined critics and supporters of this method.

Download the handout and view the presentation by clicking “Read More.” Continue reading

New World Religions Class Starting

Wat Arun, BangkokI’ll be starting one of my favorite teaching series next month: World Religions.  Here are the details.

Where: Lakeside Christian Church, Lakeside Park, KY (directions)
Dates: March 3 through May 5 (no class March 24 or April 28)
Time: 6:30pm to 8pm

We’ll be covering the history, beliefs, and practices of major world religions and new religious movements, including:

  • Christianity
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Mormonism
  • Wicca
  • Scientology

…with a few more thrown in just to be safe. The class will include time for discussion and coverage of the current state of each religion in the world and the U.S.

I hope you can make it!

Photo: Buddhist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand, by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

Swine Flu and Religious Persecution

Several media outlets are reporting that Egypt has ordered all pigs in the country to be slaughtered, out of concerns over swine flu. What does this have to do with religion? The Wall Street Journal has the best summary:

Egyptian human-rights activists have long complained of discrimination against Copts in education and in governmental hiring practices. The pork industry, a relatively small sector that caters to Christians and expatriates in Egypt, is one of the few businesses run exclusively by the Copts.

Pork is unclean in Islam, so the only pig farmers in Egypt are Christians. Sunday, the Christian farmers protested in the streets, and there is a danger of violence. Please be praying for the peace of Egypt, for reason to prevail (there is no evidence that humans can catch this flu directly from pigs), and for Christ to be lifted up.

Religion and Violence

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote on Facebook

I’m struck how many Westerners see Islam as intrinsically violent. No religion is intrinsically anything, in my view. The Bible approves of genocide (those poor Amalekites), the Fifth Dalai Lama ordered massacres, and Shintoism justified atrocities. And yet each has also been an inspiration at times for peace and justice. Ditto for Islam.

I’m not going to address whether Islam is “intrinsically violent,” but Kristof’s position ignores the specificity of religions, ignores their history, beliefs, and theology as if they were all the same. In a secular society, all religions (within certain bounds) are according basically equal standing in the eyes of the law. This does not mean that all religions are the same. I’ve particularly been struck by this fact while reading (slowly!) through Augustine’s City of God. In this book, Augustine responds to Roman pagans who have aruged that Christianity was responsible for the fall of Rome. In our contemporary, “post-Christian” culture, we so easily forget the great diversity of religion throughout history, and the variety of values, beliefs, and gods that have been worshipped.

Greeks worshipped Ares, god of war, who became angry if war was not well-waged. Jainism forbids ALL violence, even against plants and microbes. Romulus, founder and chief god of Rome, was a murderer and warrior, and the Romans worshipped him BECAUSE of his violence, not in spite of it. Quakers, Baha’is, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have made pacifism a supreme virtue, even one worth prison and death to preserve. How then can anyone claim that there are not different levels of privilege given to violence in different religions?

Further, if this is the case, why make peace or violence a presiding factor in a religions value? If one god says that violence is good, and another says peace is good, how can we judge between them? Are there, perhaps, other factors which determine a religion’s truth or value besides its view of peace and violence?